The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - DON'T BE BAD | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - DON'T BE BAD

don't be bad movie review
The misadventures of two drug-dealing friends in 1990s Italy.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Claudio Caligari

Starring: Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Silvia D'Amico, Roberta Mattei

don't be bad poster

The most boring topics of conversation in the world are: other people’s dreams, other people’s holidays and (this last one is a particular bugbear of mine, I’ll admit) other people’s drug experiences. What is it about people who take drugs and feel that they have to inform the general public about it? Are they under the impression that being intoxicated is seditious, or in any way exciting? It isn’t! It’s dull! You even get one or two who like to advertise the fact they enjoy a smoke with silly little hats or necklaces which are decorated with that iconic symbol of faux counter-culturalism: the marijuana leaf. Why bother? My dad likes a glass of red now and again, but I’ve never seen him in a t-shirt inscribed with the Blossom Hill logo, or a beanie with ‘J.P. Chenet’ emblazoned across it. In and of themselves drugs are not in the least bit interesting, and movies where controlled substances feature prominently, or where the narrative depends upon the viewer understanding the protagonists’ addictions, all share the initial obstacle of how to make the drug experience seem half way intriguing to an audience once removed. Trainspotting, a film about Scotland’s most tedious bunch of people, managed this through incendiary cinematography and exhilarating storytelling; Italy’s Don’t Be Bad, however, which shares a '90s setting and laddish premise with Danny Boyle’s knockabout picaresque, doesn’t quite manage it, and never honours the cautionary imperative of its title, either.

don't be bad

Claudio Caligari’s film centres on Cesare (Luca Marinelli) and Vittorio (Alessandro Borghi), a couple of wannabe roadmen who live in the dusty suburbs outside Rome. The pair, who, amusingly, look like the members of an indie band circa 2006, are living the gangster dream: bombing around in a little Fiat Uno flogging baggies of heavily cut chang at whatever house parties they manage to get into. We’re supposed to find the drugs in this film alluring: there is the de rigueur slo-mo close up of a chunky line being hoovered up into rolled up lira; but we’re also meant to find them dangerous too: a hallucinatory moment occurs wherein a busload of people block the road and a woman dressed as a mermaid gets shot in the head. In fairness, this is probably the only film this year where I’m likely to see a mermaid summarily executed, but the problem is that Don’t Be Bad does nothing with the conceit. Following this sequence, there are no more mad hallucinations, no more mermaids, and the scene has the restricted impact of a sketch. Like its wayward protagonists, the film wanders from one scrape to the next, pausing only to attempt sympathy for the characters via a sickly child, the narrative having all the ‘so what’ inanition of a drug bore telling someone about their ‘mad one’ the previous night.

don't be bad

Are we meant to give a monkey’s about our two protagonists? Even though both of them are a couple of toe-rags who cut their coke with all sorts of crap and, when they do find honest work, exhort their kindly boss, yes it would seem so. Cesare is uncle to a niece who has AIDS, the disease contracted while in utero from her mother, who died not long after giving birth to the poor kid. It’s a trick cheaper than the lads’ blow up, giving Cesare a tragic external context to elicit sympathy, rather than any actual developed character traits. Aside from this heart-rending detail both Cesare and Vittorio are just a couple of hopheads, at least until Vittorio ‘finds a girl and settles down’, which causes inevitable friction between the two chemical brothers. This is the other false paradigm of the drug film, the binary proposition that it's either hedonism or the heteronormative happy ever after, another irritating cliché from the big book of drug film conventions that Don’t Be Bad picks its plot from.

don't be bad

Eventually, inevitably, it all goes to shit, of course, and the film ends in bittersweet tragedy (shamefully, the predictable sentimentalism of the film’s final shot had me cynically giggling but also actually genuinely crying, so that’s something). Don’t Be Bad cannot let its likely lads off scot-free, hypocritically chastising the two despite clearly sharing Cesare and Vittorio’s captivation with the bad-man lifestyle, a puerile criminality which the film lazily assumes its audience is likewise fascinated by. Just say non mi va.

Don't Be Bad is on VOD May 23rd.